Iraq reacts US court decision, vows to 'bring Blackwater to justice'

Iraq expressed anger with a U.S. federal court ruling to drop all charges against five Blackwater forces accused of killing Iraqi civilians in 2007.

Iraq reacts US court decision, vows to 'bring Blackwater to justice'

Iraq expressed anger on Friday with a U.S. federal court ruling to drop all charges against five Blackwater forces accused of killing Iraqi civilians in 2007.

The ruling was "unjust and unacceptable" Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement, adding that Iraq had started to take steps to sue the private security company.

"The Iraqi government has started to take the necessary measures to bring Blackwater to justice for the killing of 17 Iraqi citizens," he said.

He did not details on what specific measures were being taken but he had earlier said an Iraqi investigation had shown that the five guards were responsible for the deaths of the civilians.

The shooting happened as a heavily armed Blackwater convoy escorted U.S. officials in downtown Baghdad on Sept. 16, 2007.

One Iraqi at the scene, whose young son was killed in the incident, said the guards indiscriminately rained gunfire on cars at the intersection near the convoy.

Mohammed Usama, the son of a man killed in the incident, said he was surprised at the U.S. judge's verdict, according to Reuters.

The guards in the convoy had been charged with killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians and wounding 18 others during an unprovoked attack at a busy Baghdad roundabout using guns and grenades.

But Iraq says they killed 17 civilians.

The Baghdad shooting strained U.S.-Iraqi relations and became a symbol for many Iraqis of foreign disregard for local life.

"The Iraqi government regrets and is disappointed by the U.S. court's decision," Dabbagh said by telephone.

"Immunity"

After the 2003 invasion, private guards protecting U.S. personnel enjoyed immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, but that ended with a bilateral pact that took effect in 2009.

US federal judge Ricardo Urbina threw out the charges against the five, saying prosecutors violated their rights by using incriminating statements they had made under immunity during a State Department probe.

The five guards were charged in a U.S. federal court a year ago with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter and one weapons violation count.

General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, echoed the Iraqi government's displeasure.

"Of course we're upset when we believe that people might have caused a crime and they are not held accountable," he told reporters in Baghdad, adding the dismissal might create a backlash against other security firms operating in Iraq.

A sixth Blackwater guard had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The Justice Department said it was disappointed by the judge's action. "We're in the process of reviewing the opinion and considering our options," Dean Boyd, a department spokesman, said in response to a question about whether the government would appeal.

Agencies
Last Mod: 02 Ocak 2010, 12:31
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